MULES, OXEN AND SKUNKS
††††††††††† The Greek philosopher Socrates used a mule to argue for the existence of God.
††††††††††† It didn't work.
††††††††††† His enemies executed him anyhow. Made him drink poison hemlock.
††††††††††† The Hebrew prophet Isaiah used an ox and an ass in his reasoning about God's existence.
††††††††††† He got executed too.
††††††††††† They sawed him in half.
††††††††††† Me? As a Christian, I like to play it safe; when I talk about God's existence, I use a skunk for my argument.
††††††††††† That makes me smarter than Socrates. At least, nobody thinks I'm worth executing.
††††††††††† Maybe it's just that no body wants to talk theology with a skunk.
The First Cause
††††††††††† When Socrates was on trial for his life in Athens, he pointed to a mule plodding past the Theater of Dionysus where the trial was held. He observed that mules never have baby mules. All mules are sterile. Mules are the offspring of female horses mated with male donkeys.
††††††††††† Therefore, the philosopher argued, every time you see a mule, that proves the existence of at least one horse and one donkey. And since all life only springs from other life, then those animals must have parents too.
††††††††††† Then the parents must have parents and so on and on till you come to an original source of life -- God.
††††††††††† Following the law of cause and effect, when you see any effect, you know it must have a cause, and the First Cause of all effects is God, Socrates reasoned.
††††††††††† "Who in the world would believe in sons of gods if they did not believe in gods," Socrates asked? "That would be just as odd as believing in sons of horses or asses, but not in the horses or asses themselves!"
††††††††††† His enemies responded to his reasoning with a sophisticated argument of their own.
††††††††††† "Here, drink this," they said.
Even a dumb ox knows the way home.
††††††††††† The prophet Isaiah also used an animal analogy to reason with people about God:
††††††††††† "The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel does not know, my people do not understand, " Isaiah said.-- Isaiah 1:3 KJV
††††††††††† Walt Disney movies and Reader's Digest magazine both understand the validity of Isaiah's observation. Every once in a while, both organizations display the story of some family going on vacation with their dog or cat. Somehow the animal gets left behind and makes its way over a thousand miles of rough terrain to arrive home.
††††††††††† A joyous reunion follows. Everybody hugs everybody. Tears flow.
††††††††††† The story, whatever the animal or the details, touches our hearts.
††††††††††† Deep down, we know exactly what the story teaches and with full hearts we rejoice.
††††††††††† If dumb animals hunger for home and know how to get there, then why don't people recognize God who is our Home?
††††††††††† Fact is, we do. We just hate to admit it.
††††††††††† A deep hunger and longing in the human heart manifests itself as a yearning for something. We desire something, and we do know what it is; we know that what we desperately seek is not something, but Someone.
††††††††††† We know this, but sin keeps us from the desire of our hearts, the† Desire of all Nations -- God. And we pretend that we are dumber than Isaiah's ox and that we don't really know.
††††††††††† Isaiah also addresses this false thinking:
††††††††††† "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall like wool."Isaiah 1:18 NIV
††††††††††† In other words, God's message is, Come Home.
††††††††††† Jesus said, in the Father's house are many mansions -- not just buildings but homes -- being prepared for us.
††††††††††† Jesus' message is always, Welcome Home, Stranger!
Even Skunks Believe In God
††††††††††† So, Socrates' mule argues for God's being the First Cause of all effects. Isaiah's ox argues for God's being the answer to the yearning of our hearts.
††††††††††† What does Cowart's skunk argue for?
††††††††††† Years ago when I lived up in Maryland, I used to hike in the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, a bird sanctuary where huge flocks of ducks gathered in marsh ponds during their migrations.
††††††††††† A park† ranger there once explained to me that something was killing the baby ducks.
††††††††††† He said† that over-zealous hunters had blasted most of the area's skunks. But because a favorite food of the skunks was snapping turtle eggs, now the ponds were overrun with snapping turtles and the favorite food of the turtles was duckling.
††††††††††† Skunks are vital to the food chain! No skunks, no ducks. Nothing left but hungry snapping turtles.
††††††††††† Skunks prove there is an order to creation.
††††††††††† The whole scheme of things fits together.
It's all balanced.
††††††††††† You could almost say it was planned.
††††††††††† A plan means a Planner. A design demands a Designer. A creation requires a Creator.
††††††††††† Theologians say that Socrates' mule illustrates an ontological argument for God's existence; Isaiah's ox illustrates an argument from man's universal desire for God; and† Cowart's skunk illustrates a teleological argument.
††††††††††† For centuries, some very smart people have discussed many arguments and counter-arguments concerning the existence of God. If you want more information on the subject then I'd suggest that you read books by heavy-hitter theologians such as St. Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Hodge, Soren Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis† or A. W. Tozer.
††††††††††† Now the thoughts I've presented here do not necessarily prove the existence of a God who hears and answers our prayers. These thoughts are merely hints that he really is at home when the phone rings.
††††††††††† And you don't have to be a super-brain theologian to take a hint.
††††††††††† As St. Paul said, "Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."-- Hebrews 11:6 NIV
††††††††††† Ok. I believe that God is. I believe he is a rewarder. I even believe that I've been more or less diligent in my prayers. How come I still get no satisfactory answer?
††††††††††† Where is God when I cry for him?
††††††††††† Could it be that God is not available?
When God is out of town, where does he go?
††††††††††† According to a old book on odd wills, many years ago an eccentric lady who lived in Cherokee County, N.C., died and left her property to -- God.
††††††††††† The probate court, attempting to honor her wishes, went through the motions of summoning God to court for the settlement.
††††††††††† He did not appear.
††††††††††† Pursuing both letter and spirit of the law, the court instructed the local sheriff to locate the designated heir.
††††††††††† After a time the sheriff duly reported, "Having searched diligently, I have determined that you can not find God in Cherokee County, N.C."
††††††††††† Where would you find him then?
††††††††††† A missionary on leave from service in India told me that he had seen a man go from boulder to boulder in the desert knocking on each rock and calling out, "Are you there? Are you there?"
††††††††††† When asked, the man explained he had heard that a god lived among the rocks and he was looking so he could worship it.
††††††††††† Once I talked with a young woman who was pushing a baby stroller. In it rested a severely deformed and retarded child.
††††††††††† "Where was God when he was born," she said bitterly, pointing at her son.
††††††††††† Where is God?
††††††††††† Read any newspaper and the devil is usually right there in big print on the front page; but where is God?
††††††††††† A basic tenet of Christian theology says that God is omnipresent; that he is everywhere, in all places at all times, unlimited by distance.
††††††††††† "In Him we live and move and have our being," St. Paul told the philosophers of Athens.
††††††††††† The picture which the Scripture gives of God's omnipresence reminds me of a pipping-hot, batter-fried shrimp.
††††††††††† The shrimp is me.
††††††††††† The covering batter is the world around me.
††††††††††† The oil coating the whole is the extended universe.
††††††††††† And God?
††††††††††† Well, God is the heat permeating the whole thing -- the shrimp, the batter, and the oil.
††††††††††† The Bible teaches that God is in nature -- or more correctly that nature is in God:
††††††††††† "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it".† --† Psalm 24:1 NIV
††††††††††† The Bible teaches that God is in Christ, His Son:
††††††††††† "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself..."
-- II Corinthians 5:19 KJV
††††††††††† The Bible teaches that God is in his people, the church:
††††††††††† Jesus said, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them".-- Matthew 18:20 NIV
††††††††††† The Bible teaches that God is willing to come into the hearts of sinners who repent, folks like you and me:
††††††††††† "Behold! I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone† hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him..."-- Revelation 3:20 KJV
††††††††††† The Bible teaches that God delights to be discovered by those who truly seek him: as the old hymn (based on Isaiah 44:3) says, "I will pour water on him who is thirsty. I will pour floods upon the dry ground. Open your hearts to the gift I am bringing; while ye are seeking me, I will be found".
††††††††††† Where is God?
††††††††††† French mystic Madame Jeanne Guyon said the Spirit told her, "While you were running around, I was seeking you".
††††††††††† The Apostle James worded it even more simply; he said, "God is near."
††††††††††† How about that?
††††††††††† God is near.
††††††††††† Close as thought. Close as prayer. Close as your heart's desire.
††††††††††† In Him, we live and move and have our very being.
Then we don't have to go someplace special to pray?
††††††††††† God is omnipresent; he is in all places at all times. He is in your kitchen, your office, your garage, your classroom† as well as in your church. He is with us when we drive, when we polish our shoes, study our lessons, witness to the unsaved, rock the baby, kneel for communion, feed the hungry, nurse the sick, play ball with the guys...
††††††††††† Where is He not?
††††††††††† In thinking about God being everywhere watching you, please don't get the mental picture of Big Brother spying on you all the time ready to zap you when you screw up -- instead, think of a nurse in a hospital intensive care unit ready to jump to your aid the second the heart monitor fluctuates.
††††††††††† Jeremy Taylor, who suffered persecution by Oliver Cromwell's roundheads, said:
††††††††††† † "God is everywhere present by his power. He rolls the orbs of heaven with His hand; He fixes the earth with His foot; He guides all the creatures with His eye, and refreshes them with His influence: He makes the powers of hell to shake with His terrors, and binds the devils with His word, and throws them out with His command; and sends the angels on embassies with His decrees; He hardens the joints of infants, and makes firm the bones when they are fashioned secretly...
††††††††††† † "Let everything you see represent to your spirit the presence, the excellency and the power of God, and let your conversation with the creatures lead you unto the Creator; for so shall your actions be done more frequently with an actual eye to God's presence by your often seeing Him in the glass of the creation. In the face of the sun you may see God's beauty; in the fire you may feel His heat warming; in the water His gentleness to refresh you: He it is that comforts your spirit when you have taken cordials; it is the dew of heaven that makes your field give you bread..."
††††††††††† Taylor said that if we will but recognize that we live each moment in the presence of God, then we can pray anytime and anywhere so that,
††††††††††† † "Every act of complaint or thanksgiving, every act of rejoicing or of mourning, and every petition is a going to God, an appearing in His presence, and a building to God of a chapel in our heart. It reconciles Martha's employment with Mary's devotion, charity and religion, the necessities of our calling and the employment of devotion. For thus, in the midst of the works of your trade, you may retire into your chapel, your heart -- and converse with God!
††††††††††† Trust and do...
††††††††††† God is really beside us constantly and we can continually talk with him as we do our everyday work,† -- we can pray without ceasing.
††††††††††† Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop-pail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should".
††††††††††† So don't have to go to a special place, we can pray while we vacuum the floor, program the computer, paint the eaves, change a tire, change the printer ribbon, change the baby...
But isn't prayer such a serious business that it demands all our attention?
††††††††††† Work is prayer in that by both activities seek to bring about a desired end; and I suspect that the most effective way to work is to pray at the same time; and the most effective way to pray is while our hands are busy with some needed chore.
††††††††††† Work and prayer are related like... like... well, if in a Chinese restaurant you can eat two bowls of shrimp egg foo young with two chopsticks, how many bowls can you eat with one chopstick?
††††††††††† I think work and prayers are like those two chopsticks -- we use both at the same time.
††††††††††† But is this idea for everyone? Yes. While few of us can build a great cathedral, go as missionaries, preach to thousands or perform some great work for God -- all of us can do little everyday things for the love of God.
††††††††††† In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence, who worked in a monastery kitchen during the 1660s, said the God does not regard the greatness of our labor as much as he regards the love with which it is performed. He tried to cook meals and wash dishes for the love of Christ while talking with Christ as he scrubbed pans.
††††††††††† He said his greatest business in life did not divert him from the presence of God because he prayed as he worked.
††††††††††† "The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer," he said, "In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament," he said.
††††††††††† Taylor and Lawrence and many other saints of the past say that praying while doing the plain, ordinary, un-glamorous, duty right before our eyes is the best way to pray. They teach that when your prayers seem to get nowhere, then don't sulk but do the obvious duty you have to do. Clean your room. Study your lessons. Witness to the unsaved. Pet the cat. Visit a shut-in. Hoe weeds... praying as you do common ordinary work.
††††††††††† But if God is indeed everywhere and we can talk with him at any time and at any place even while we're doing other things, then why do we have any problem at all finding him?
Who's looking for who?
††††††††††† The trouble with an omnipresent God is that he's too close. He crowds us. He moves in on our turf; Hey, I'm the king of this corner.
††††††††††† There are times when we all wish he'd back off, go hide under that rock in India, don't meddle in our affairs.
††††††††††† We become aware of his presence at the most inconvenient times. Yes indeed, sometimes, God is not only here and there, but right underfoot.
††††††††††† You see, while we dabble at searching for God and go through all the right religious motions, God is everywhere and at all times seeking us:
††††††††††† Remember, after the first sin of mankind, the very first thing God said was, "Adam, where are you?"
††††††††††† Man, of course, was hiding stark naked in the bushes.
††††††††††† That's were we spend most of our time to this very day. Sin causes us to feel an aversion to God, makes us uncomfortable in his presence.
††††††††††† Adam set the historical precedent of God's looking for man while man hides -- Yet,† we make a big display of being "Seekers" after God.
††††††††††† "Where is God? Where is God," we cry, as though He were the one hiding.
††††††††††† †Where is God when the drugs I took deform my child? Where is God when the car breaks down? Where is God when the rent comes due? Where is God when I get fired off my job?
††††††††††† Where is God at those times when I command his appearance front and center at my convenience.
††††††††††† He really ought to jump when I snap. What kind of God is this anyhow?
††††††††††† He is Creator and the universe he created, small as a hazel nut,† exists in the palm of his hand. He is its Maker, Master and Means of support.
Why in the world is God looking for us?
††††††††††† What is it that God wants from me?
††††††††††† Why does he call us to prayer and fellowship?
††††††††††† Why does he call our names and seek out our hiding places?
††††††††††† Why does he beat the bushes for us?
††††††††††† The Bible tells why:
††††††††††† "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout† the whole earth to show himself strong on the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him". -- II Chronicles 16:9 KJV
††††††††††† What do you think of that?
††††††††††† But if God is strong and he wants to show his strength for me when I pray, but I still do not get the things I ask him for, could it be that God is not strong enough to perform.
††††††††††† Could it be that he is not able to do what I ask?
††††††††††† Let's think about that disturbing possibility in the next chapter.
†You have been reading Chapter Two of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Three